MLB on course to spend more than $4 billion in 2015

Jeff PassanMLB columnist

The Los Angeles Dodgers are primed to shatter baseball’s payroll record, with an estimated $262.6 million worth of salaries on the books, and Major League Baseball almost assuredly will cross the $4 billion threshold as an industry in payroll and benefits during the 2015 season, according to a Yahoo Sports analysis.

When Max Scherzer eventually signs, he'll push MLB's spending even further. (USA TODAY Sports)
When Max Scherzer eventually signs, he'll push MLB's spending even further. (USA TODAY Sports)

Using reported salary figures from Baseball Prospectus, arbitration estimates from MLB Trade Rumors and the standard $500,000 for pre-arbitration players, opening day salaries for the 30 teams total nearly $3.6 billion. With the signings of remaining free agents – Max Scherzer, James Shields, Colby Rasmus and a handful of relievers, back-end starters and fourth-outfielder types – teams should guarantee at least another $125 million in 2015 salaries to players before the start of the season, pushing the total well past the $3.63 billion teams paid players last season.

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By adding an estimated $12 million per team in benefits and other supplementary income, the total money paid should rocket past $4 billion, as the industry’s annual revenue exceeds $9 billion.

Nearly two-thirds of the teams in baseball could start the season with $100 million-plus payrolls, with the Dodgers, Yankees ($210.9 million) and Red Sox ($180.5 million) all certain to exceed the $189 million luxury-tax threshold. Rounding out the top five payrolls are Detroit ($168.8 million) and World Series champion San Francisco ($160.7 million).

The rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies, a perennial high-payroll team, dropped to eighth with a $136.4 million team – more than $43.6 million lower than their opening day figure in 2014. Arizona shed the next-highest figure, dipping $27.3 million to an estimated $85.4 million, and Atlanta was third, going from $110.9 million in 2014 to $93 million in 2015. Also down: the Los Angeles Angels ($145.5 million) and Toronto ($122.5 million), both a little more than $10 million under 2014.

The biggest salary jump comes in Seattle, where the Mariners’ offensive additions bumped their payroll to an estimated $122.5 million, more than $30 million ahead of 2014. The Dodgers are second at $27.3 million, though in reality they’ll actually be spending less on players in their uniform this year: they’re paying a combined $37.5 million to cover the salaries of the released Brian Wilson and the traded Matt Kemp and Dan Haren. Other big movers: the Chicago White Sox jumping $23.4 million to an estimated $114.6 million, the AL champion Kansas City Royals up $20 million to a record $112.1 million payroll, and the Chicago Cubs, finally spending again, ahead $19.1 million from last year and back into nine figures at $108.5 million.

The bottom five in payroll are some familiar culprits. The Houston Astros again are projected to have baseball’s lowest payroll at $64.7 million, even with a jump of more than $20 million from opening day 2014, and the Miami Marlins have the second lowest at $66.9 million despite a nearly equal bump to Houston’s. Tampa Bay ($73.5 million), Oakland ($80.6 million) and Cleveland ($83 million) round out the five lowest, each expecting to spend near what it did last season.

San Diego, surprisingly, remains near the bottom in total payroll despite its spending binge this offseason. Its 24th-ranked payroll of $87.7 million would actually be $2 million lower than last opening day. What gives? Include the $18 million balloon payment for Kemp and the Padres’ $105.7 million figure would actually be 19th overall.

Still under $100 million: The New York Mets, who play in America’s biggest market and would have a $96.7 million team if the season started today – about $15 million less than Kansas City, $14 million lower than Cincinnati, $10 million under Milwaukee and $8 million behind Minnesota, whose four metropolitan-area populations combined aren’t half as big as the Mets’.

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